Traditioning Jesus, and Aristotle’s Four Causes

My Tradition Conference Essay! It’s a bit clunky in parts, but I’m rather fond of the overall idea.

 

Given that Jesus is the Truth (Jn. 14:6), explore the implications for Sacred Tradition.

 

In the opening paper of the Tradition Conference, Catholic Moral Tradition, Bishop Anthony Fisher noted that it is in our nature as human beings to have traditions.[1]These generally function by providing conventions for actions or ways of thinking, and arise from a process of handing on received wisdom and custom. When we consider the fact that Christ identifies the truth with His very own being,[2]we arrive at the startling notion of “traditioning”[3]or handing on a person. This paper will attempt to see what sense we might make of such a proposition, and its implications, with particular reference to the ideas discussed at the Tradition Conference. I propose that thinking of Tradition in this way gets right to the heart of precisely what Sacred Tradition is, and should not be a foreign concept at all. Furthermore, drawing from the four causes of human persons, I will apply them analogously to this idea of Tradition as a Person.[4]I will argue that this fashion of thinking of Tradition allows its purpose to shine through with greater clarity, revealing that Sacred Tradition ultimately finds its fulfilment in the encounter with Christ made possible for the world through the Church as a whole and through all her individual members.

The Tradition Conference presented an array of angles from which tradition might be viewed, which aligned themselves in various thematic ways. One of these in particular was that tradition may refer either to the process by which truth is transmitted from one generation to the next, or to the transmitted truths themselves. When thinking about Sacred Tradition, however, we do well not to draw too hard a line between the two. Renee Kohler-Ryan, in her paper Keeping Truth in Style, provides us with a helpful analogy- that of envisioning Tradition as a long conversation that has been going on within the Church, through the ages.[5]Those engaged in conversation (whether written or oral)[6]and the ideas exchanged may be distinct, but nonetheless very much intertwined. The ideas would not be present if not for the agents’ minds, and the agents, without exchanging ideas, would not be conversing. Thus persons and ideas need each other for the conversation to take place. Their inseparability may be better understood as being similar to that of matter and form. Matter and form should not be thought of as distinct, but rather as different ways of looking at the same thing.[7]Similarly, Tradition as process and Tradition as doctrinal content are merely different ways of looking at Sacred Tradition.

Truth is generally held by realists to be “the adequation of the mind to being”, or that which arises from “our knowing apprehending being.”[8]In his conference paper Tradition, Temporality and Transcendence: A Biblical Ontology of Time and Space, Robert Tilley dwelt at length upon the contrasting paradigms of modernity and Scripture regarding the nature of space and time. He pointed out that two currents in modernity, namely, anti-clericalism and anti-metaphysics or sacramental ontology, have led to the separation of meaning from reality.[9]Modernity contends that any meaning we perceive the cosmos to have is precisely merely that: perceived. They claim that we project or even impose meaning on reality, and thus reality is subject to the individual’s interpretation, with no real connection between being and meaning.[10]This destroys any concept of teleology. Truth is thereby relativised, the effects of which are legion in contemporary society. The position of the Church, in opposition to this, is that meaning is intrinsic to being.[11]The consequences of such a position for one’s conception of Tradition are manifest in Terence Tilley’s Inventing Catholic Tradition, a critique of which is the focus of Matthew Levering’s paper Catholic Tradition: Invented or Received? Tilley rejects realism, a rejection followed by the “relativisation of propositional truth, the view that Catholic tradition has no definite content or starting-point, and the view that Catholic tradition evolves in a non-teleological fashion.”[12] Hence, when truth is relativised, by becoming merely the individual’s projection onto reality, one arrives at an understanding of tradition that runs along similar contours to Terence Tilley’s, namely one that “envisions Catholic tradition as a continual re-invention of the practice of Catholic faith, without doctrinal stability.”[13]Thus a well-grounded concept of truth is essential for grasping Sacred Tradition, which claims to be the preservation of the deposit of faith,[14]necessarily requiring a sound notion of objectivity.

An alternative (but by no means contradictory) account of truth is found in Hans Urs von Balthasar’s definition, “being revealing itself”.[15]It is obviously relevant to note that God is existence or Being itself.[16]So, truth is God revealing Himself, which is none other than revelation. The fullness of revelation is found in Jesus Christ, and accordingly He quite intelligibly (and yet mysteriously) says “I am the truth.”[17]Revelation has been taking place throughout the history of humanity, as recorded in the Old Testament, where God slowly prepared mankind to receive the fullness of revelation. This fullness arrived in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, the Son of God. By definition, revelation requires someone to whom things are unveiled, a receiver. The receiver of God’s complete revelation in Christ is the Church. She constantly receives it anew in each generation, and is simultaneously the bearer of that which is received. It is within this larger context of revelation that Sacred Scripture and Tradition must therefore be considered.[18]

Thus we arrive at the core of the question at hand. Having reflected upon truth, revelation and Christ in connection with Tradition, it seems that thinking of Tradition simply as unchanging truth claims about God is inadequate. Rather, if Sacred Tradition is the revelation that Christ has charged the Church to transmit to every age, that revelation is inseparable from the Person of Christ Himself. Tracey Rowland, in her paper Tradition and Revelation in the Theology of Benedict XVI, provides us with Pope Benedict XVI’s reflections on this matter. While some aspect of Sacred Tradition is certainly the “material transmission of what was given to the apostles,” this by no means exhausts it. More than that, Tradition is “the effective presence of the crucified, risen Jesus who accompanies and guides in the Spirit the community He has gathered together.”[19]It is more because what Jesus left in His Church was not just a collection of truths about Himself- He promised to remain with His Church always,[20]and to send the “Spirit of Truth”.[21]Furthermore, as noted previously, He identified His own person with Truth itself. This fact is expressed by Emery in the following way: “the Son is the truth of the Father.”[22]Therefore, to understand that that which the Church hands on in Apostolic Tradition is the final revelation of God in Jesus Christ is to understand Tradition in its fullest sense.

At this point, it might be expedient to draw some brief conclusions from our reflections thus far. While the idea that Tradition and a Person are intimately connected may at first seem counterintuitive, if one examines the relationship between truth, Christ and divine revelation, such an idea becomes the only way that Tradition makes real sense. It is the best way to think of Tradition, since it is the most holistic and comprehensive, getting to the heart of what Tradition actually is, rather than the more simplistic notion of preserving a set of dogmatic truths through time. Furthermore, it is worthwhile noting that, since the process and content of Tradition are inseparable, Christ may be identified not only as that which is handed on by the Church in Tradition, but also with the process of Tradition itself. This implies that one may not only say Christ is traditioned, but, along with Benedict XVI, [23]  that Tradition is Christ.

It is important to have this clear understanding of what Sacred Tradition is, so that we may know what it is for, if we are to play our proper role in it. One way of gaining a comprehensive knowledge of what an object is and of its purpose, is accomplished by discerning that object’s four causes. Although Christ is a divine Person, not a human one, He does possess a human nature. I propose, therefore, that we may analogously consider the four causes, as applied to human persons, as they relate to the Person of Christ in His humanity.[24]Insofar as Sacred Tradition is the preservation of the Incarnation, the four causes of Sacred Tradition and of Christ in His humanity are intimately connected. By so doing, I hope to build a more complete account of Sacred Tradition. Briefly, the material cause of the human person is the body, the formal cause is the soul, God and one’s parents are the efficient causes and man’s final cause is to be united with God eternally.[25]The respective means by which Christ has remained on earth that echo these are: in His Body, the Church; in the soul of His Body, the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church into all truth; in His instituting the Church, and her every generation successively becoming bearers of the deposit of faith; and in the purpose of the Church being the means by which Christ draws all humanity to Himself, so that every person may fulfil their end, by encountering Christ. What follows will be a more in-depth discussion of each of these ways of understanding Tradition.

The Person of the Son of God, post the Incarnation, is irrevocably united to His human nature. As such, if Christ is to remain on earth, as He promised He would,[26]integral to this plan is that He remains in a tangible manner, corresponding to the bodily dimension of His humanity. This is manifested in the Church, a visible entity, appropriately called the Body of Christ.[27]Recall that according to Dei Verbum this Church traditions herself, and the Incarnation, and so Sacred Tradition is inextricably linked to her teaching, life and worship.[28]This was the main point made by Robert Tilley in his conference paper. He argued that “redemptive and perfective sacramental action is dependent on the priestly role of humanity, a role perfected and fulfilled in the humanity of the Word made flesh, and by reason of a real participation in the body and blood of this humanity, all humanity is involved, and this through his body the Church. And this real participation is through the words of the Apostles, both in Scripture and Tradition.” In other words, Tradition has a thoroughly material aspect, in that is it bound to the liturgy and sacraments, which are necessarily tangible,[29]and also in that it is carried out by the members of the Body of Christ.

The formal cause of Sacred Tradition may be said to be the soul of the Body of Christ, namely, the Holy Spirit.[30]This Spirit, “the Spirit of truth”,[31]guides the Church and allows Tradition to evolve in a teleological fashion.[32]The Church engages with revelation over the centuries, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, questioning and explaining, seeking to effectively hand on the faith to the next generation, allowing new aspects of Christ to shine forth. It is a never-ending quest to exhaust the inexhaustible depths of God, and therefore a foretaste of heaven.[33]These new aspects that must be allowed to surface were described by Kohler-Ryan as scandals,[34]by Kingwell as ruptures,[35]and by Rowland quoting Balthasar as “the Spirit blowing where it wills, bringing new aspects to light in every age.”[36]Hence, the Holy Spirit acts as the animating principle of the Church, guiding her as she engages in traditioning, so that the revelation of Christ is authentically preserved and engagement with Him is made possible in every age.

An object’s efficient cause is the “primary source of the change or coming to rest.”[37]Thus for Sacred Tradition, we have as the primary source Christ’s establishment of the Church, leaving her with the Apostolic deposit of faith, to be handed on; but since this Tradition is an ongoing reality, each generation, as they become the new bearers of the deposit (after the Apostles), also causes the deposit to remain for the next age. This process is inaugurated by the Father, who, in the primordial act of handing on, sends His Son to the world.[38]Together, the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit to the Church, and it is His actions in the Church that facilitate the handing on of Christ to each age. In Baptism, the Church Traditions herself, as new persons are born anew into the life of God as His children, and as part of His Church, they receive the responsibility of playing a part in handing on the faith they have received.[39]In this way the perpetuation of humanity and that of the Church bear striking similarity.[40]And it is precisely in the perpetuation of the Church that Sacred Tradition exists. In the words of Dei Verbum, in Tradition “the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.”[41]Hence God is the Divine Author of Tradition, in that He initiated it, established a community to continue it, and pledged to guide that community Himself.

Finally, we turn to the end to which Sacred Tradition is ordered, utilising what we now know about its nature. The Body of Christ hands itself on, and this same Church, which is also the Bride of Christ, is guided by its “soul”, the Holy Spirit, into all truth. In this way the Bride is engaged in an ongoing conversation with her Bridegroom, as He leads her to unfold more and more of the mystery of Revelation in Christ. It is in this manner that Tradition “evolves teleologically”.[42]But this development is not an end in itself. It finds fulfilment in being the means by which all men are able to encounter Christ in every age, whether that encounter be directly (through the liturgy in word and sacrament) or indirectly (through the witness of members of the Church).

On an individual level, we oscillate between sharing our faith and receiving it from others, as we grow and learn individually and help those around us to do the same, within the Church community. Sharing our encounter with Christ is not, however, an optional extra. It is an imperative from Christ,[43]and, argued Dr John Armstrong in The Difficult Duty of the Few to the Many, a natural obligation. We have a duty, he says, to attempt to persuade others of that which we are convinced is true and good and therefore helpful for living a fulfilled life.[44]Obviously this is true in the most complete sense of the Christian faith. This is done not only in what we say, but by the very way we live, in who we are, since, through baptism, we are so closely identified with Christ as to become “other Christs”, through whom others may truly encounter Him.[45]Thus Tradition truly becomes, in the words of Prof John Haldane, a means to being introduced to the Truth.[46]

In conclusion, while the idea of a person being identified with tradition might seem counter-intuitive, in the case of Sacred Tradition, looking at Tradition from this angle in fact captures a fuller picture of Tradition than does the idea of preserving a set of truth claims, as this exposition has attempted to argue. By contemplating Tradition in connection with its organ, the Church, we can grasp in a more complete way how Jesus carries out His promise to remain with us always. An Aristotelian examination of Tradition as revelation in the person of Christ reveals the depth of this connection, and also illuminates the relationship between what Tradition is, how it works, and what it is working towards. Its purpose is ultimately seen to be the enabling of all humanity to encounter their Saviour, Jesus Christ.

 
BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Aquinas, Thomas., Summa Theologiae, Thomas Gilby O.P. (Ed.) & T.C. O’Brien O.P. (Trans.) (Cambridge University Press: New York, 1965)

 

Aristotle, ‘Physics’ in Great Books of the Western World Vol. 8- Aristotle I, Robert Maynard Hutchins (Ed.) (Chicago: William Benton, 1952)

 

Armstrong, John., The Difficult Duty of the Few to the Many, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Biemer, Gunter., Newman on Tradition (New York: Herder and Herder, 1967)

 

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2ndEdition, English translation for USA (Washington, USA: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997)

 

Chappell, Timothy., Persons and humanity, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Copleston, Frederick., A History of Philosophy Vol. I Part II Greece & Rome (New York: Image Books, 1962)

 

Costello, Archbishop Timothy., Personal faith and development in the light of Sacred Tradition, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Dulles, Avery., Models of Revelation (New York: Orbis Books, 1992)

 

Emery, Gilles., Trinity, Church and the Human Person (Florida: Sapientia Press, 2007)

 

Fisher, Bishop Anthony., Catholic Moral Tradition, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Gregory, Brad., The Unintended Reformation- How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2012)

 

Haldane, John., What philosophical sense can we make of Sacred Tradition? Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Journet, Charles., Theology of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2004)

 

Kingwell, Mark., Fugitive Democracy: A Gift in Time, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Kleinig, John., Leviticus (Concordia Commentary)(Concordia: St Louis, 2003)

 

Kohler-Ryan, Renee., Keeping Truth in Style, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Levering, Matthew., Catholic Tradition: Invented or Received?Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

New Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 11, 2nd Edition, Berard Marthaler (ed.) (Washington, D.C.: Thomson Gale, 2003)

 

Rowland, Tracey., Tradition and Revelation in the Theology of Benedict XV, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum (November 18, 1965) 

 

Tilley, Robert., Tradition, Temporality and Transcendence: A Biblical Ontology of Time and Space, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Trigg, Roger., Ideas of Human Nature- An Historical Introduction (Oxford: Athenaeum Press, 1988)

 

The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)


REFERENCE LIST:

Aquinas, Thomas., Summa Theologiae, Thomas Gilby O.P. (Ed.) & T.C. O’Brien O.P. (Trans.) (Cambridge University Press: New York, 1965)

 

Aristotle, ‘Physics’ in Great Books of the Western World Vol. 8- Aristotle I, Robert Maynard Hutchins (Ed.) (Chicago: William Benton, 1952)

 

Armstrong, John., The Difficult Duty of the Few to the Many, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2ndEdition, English translation for USA (Washington, USA: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997)

 

Chappell, Timothy., Persons and humanity, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Copleston, Frederick., A History of Philosophy Vol. I Part II Greece & Rome (New York: Image Books, 1962)

 

Emery, Gilles., Trinity, Church and the Human Person (Florida: Sapientia Press, 2007)

 

Fisher, Bishop Anthony., Catholic Moral Tradition, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Gregory, Brad., The Unintended Reformation- How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2012)

 

Haldane, John., What philosophical sense can we make of Sacred Tradition? Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Kingwell, Mark., Fugitive Democracy: A Gift in Time, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Kleinig, John., Leviticus (Concordia Commentary)(Concordia: St Louis, 2003)

 

Kohler-Ryan, Renee., Keeping Truth in Style, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Levering, Matthew., Catholic Tradition: Invented or Received?Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Rowland, Tracey., Tradition and Revelation in the Theology of Benedict XV, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum (November 18, 1965) 

Tilley, Robert., Tradition, Temporality and Transcendence: A Biblical Ontology of Time and Space, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished

 

Trigg, Roger., Ideas of Human Nature- An Historical Introduction (Oxford: Athenaeum Press, 1988)
The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)


[1] Bishop Anthony Fisher, Catholic Moral Tradition, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished (NB: references from papers are sourced both from audio versions and written versions, as variously available. Hence some references will contain page numbers, and others will not.)
[2] Jn. 14:6; Unless otherwise noted, all references to Sacred Scripture will be taken from the Revised Standard Version
[3] In this paper I will denote the act of handing on the content of tradition by using “tradition” as a verb (in addition to its normal usage as a noun), in keeping with its Latin root tradere, the verb meaning ‘to hand on’. The use of this term is intended to encompass not only the transmissioning aspect, but also the fact that the tradition is being actively received. Such terminology will help to emphasise the unity between the process and the content of tradition.
[4] Throughout this paper, “tradition” will refer to the general notion of tradition, while “Tradition” will denote Catholic Sacred or Apostolic Tradition
[5] Renee Kohler-Ryan, Keeping Truth in Style, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished
[6] 2 Thess. 2:15; Matthew Levering, Catholic Tradition: Invented or Received? Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished, p. 39- “Paul’s words demonstrate that there is an apostolic communication that belongs to the Church as a living subject and that in some way differs from Scripture. Put another way, Paul’s distinction between traditions delivered “by letter” and traditions delivered “by word of mouth” enable us to appreciate that divine revelation is not communicated to the Church solely by means of Scripture.”
[7] Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy Vol I Part II Greece & Rome, pp. 48-51
[8] Matthew Levering, Catholic Tradition: Invented or Received?Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished, pp. 8-9 (paraphrased)
[9] Brad Gregory traces the historical trajectory of the latter current in his first chapter of The Unintended Reformation- How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society, “Excluding God”, summarised thus: “Desacramentalised and denuded of God’s presence via metaphysical univocity and Occam’s razor, the natural world would cease to be either the Catholic theatre of God’s grace or the playground of Satan as Luther’s princeps mundi. Instead, it would become so much raw material awaiting the imprint of human desires.” p.57
[10] Robert Tilley, Tradition, Temporality and Transcendence: A Biblical Ontology of Time and Space, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished, p.3 footnote 6
[11] A view grounded in the understanding that God created the cosmos, which infuses everything with meaning and purpose, and the study of which is found in metaphysics
[12] Matthew Levering, Catholic Tradition: Invented or Received?Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished, p.7
[13] Matthew Levering, Catholic Tradition: Invented or Received?Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished, p.6
[14] CCC 97
[15] As quoted by Giles Emery, Trinity, Church and the Human Person, p. 73
[16] ST I-I, Q. 3, Art. 4; Ex. 3:14
[17] Jn. 14:6
[18] Tracey Rowland, Tradition and Revelation in the Theology of Benedict XV, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished
[19] Tracey Rowland, Tradition and Revelation in the Theology of Benedict XV, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished
[20] Mt. 28:20
[21] Jn. 16:13
[22] Giles Emery, Trinity, Church and the Human Person, p. 78
[23] See footnote 19: Tradition is “the effective presence of the crucified, risen Jesus who accompanies and guides in the Spirit the community He has gathered together.”
[24] By this, I in no way mean to say that Christ, as God, is caused by anything. Rather, considering Christ in His humanity reveals some interesting parallels that are relevant to our current contemplation of Sacred Tradition
[25] Roger Trigg, Ideas of Human Nature- An Historical Introduction, pp. 39-40
[26] Mt. 28:20
[27] 1 Cor. 12:27
[28] DV 8: “the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.”
[29] John Kleinig, Leviticus, pp. 20-24
[30] CCC 809, 813
[31] Jn. 14:17, 15:26, 16:13
[32] Matthew Levering, Catholic Tradition: Invented or Received?Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished, pp. 46-47
[33] 1 Cor. 13:12; CCC 1028
[34] Renee Kohler-Ryan, Keeping Truth in Style, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished
[35] Mark Kingwell, Fugitive Democracy: A Gift in Time, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished
[36] Tracey Rowland, Tradition and Revelation in the Theology of Benedict XV, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished
[37] Aristotle, Physics, 194b29-30
[38] This Josef Ratzinger called the “original paradosis which “is continued in the abiding presence of Christ in His Body, the Church.”; Tracey Rowland, Tradition and Revelation in the Theology of Benedict XV, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished, p. 279
[39] CCC 785, 1270
[40] As previously mentioned, the efficient causes of the human being are God and one’s parents (or, more generally, the previous generation). Similarly, for Tradition, the efficient cause is the Trinity, as well as the previous generation of the Church.
On a related note, in his paper Persons and humanity, Timothy Chappell laid out a theory of personhood which may be of use in our attempt to see how traditioning a person might be made intelligible. He submits that we become a person by essentially being traditioned into personhood. He states “I get to be a person by being treated as a person: I learn to treat myself as a subject and a thinker and an interactor with others because others so treat me.” The idea that Chappell raises is not without merit. One might legitimately say that we are traditioned into personhood not by being treated as one, but in the fact that our humanity is in a sense “handed on” to us by our parents. We do not obtain it ourselves, it is a gift. Each generation does indeed pass on the persons of the next generation. Thus we see that humanity traditions itself over time, by traditioning individual persons at particular times. Timothy Chappell, Persons and humanity, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished
[41] DV 8, emphasis added
[42] Matthew Levering, Catholic Tradition: Invented or Received?Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished, p.7, paraphrased
[43] Mt. 28:18-20
[44] John Armstrong, The Difficult Duty of the Few to the Many, Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished
[45] Gal. 3:26-27; Rom. 6:3-11; Rom. 8:17
[46] John Haldane, What philosophical sense can we make of Sacred Tradition? Tradition Conference 2013, unpublished
 
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